Everyone worries about their health from time to time. It is natural. From a psychological standpoint, worry and concern over our health is a protective mechanism that keeps our behaviors in check. For many of us, we know that staying healthy helps us feel stronger, more energized and happier. We strive to live our longest, best life and we do so by trying to incorporate many healthy behaviors into our daily lifestyle. We have a strong focus on what it means to be healthy and most of the time our worries with regard to our health are small.
But what happens when we get overly anxious and concerned about our health. This more extreme form of worry is called “health anxiety”. Health anxiety can cause otherwise healthy people to worry that they are sick, when in fact they are not. Health anxiety is fueled by an obsessive and irrational worry that one may be suffering from a serious medical condition. It can be marked by the imagination of physical symptoms or a heightened misinterpretation of common physical sensations. The coronavirus pandemic is the perfect breeding ground for developing heath anxiety.
Our new normal has become a daily scan of our own and others’ physical symptoms. In the grocery store we become concerned if we hear someone cough or sneeze. Does that person look healthy? Common response to a stranger who sneezed was once a concerned bless you, but, now we cautiously move away to make more distance between us. We finish shopping and we obsessively sanitize our hands before get in the car. We wipe our groceries before bringing them in. At home, we wake a bit more tired than usual and with a sore throat. Is it coronavirus? Spring has sprung and it is allergy season for many. We are sneezing and coughing more than usual. Normally, not a concern, but now we wonder is it coronavirus? Some of us have taken to googling our symptoms, real or perceived, obsessively. Others scan their temperature throughout the day to make sure they are still healthy and fever-free. We worry that if we do get sick that we will be in the small percentage that end up hospitalized, on a ventilator or worse dying from the disease.
Our minds are in constant overdrive with worry. And if we let them, excessive worrying, in the absence of disease, will in the short run interfere with our daily happiness and feelings of well-being. Whereas in the long run, those who persistently worry become at greater risk for developing a number of chronic health conditions related to stress.
So how can we start feeling better and beat our feelings of health anxiety related to the coronavirus? Here are four helpful tips to get us started.
- Identify and Manage Triggers. Take a moment to write down when you are feeling most anxious and then identify the reason why you are feeling anxious. What do the symptoms of your anxiety feel like? What were you doing when you started feeling anxious? Were you watching the news? Talking to a friend who may be sick? Googling your symptoms on the internet? Did your heart start racing? Did you feel dizzy? Once you are able to identify the triggers and the emotions that are associated to your anxiety you can manage the challenges by changing behaviors that come with them. Try taking a few days without the news and the internet. Try focusing on feelings of wellness rather than illness. By following these simple strategies your anxiety should lessen.
- Keep Your Body and Mind Healthy. Anxiety can make us feel trapped, especially when there are so many things in our day to day that we cannot control. The coronavirus is an invisible threat and if we let it – it can and will stalk our fears. But despite feeling so out of control, there are still a lot of things we can control to foster good health. Spend some time today thinking how you can keep boost your own health. Plan some new recipes that include immune strengthening foods. Schedule some time in nature. If the weather permits, get some sunshine. Spend time laughing, relaxing and being playful. Go to bed early and get a good nights’ rest. These are all easy and convenient stress busting activities and certainly just what the doctor ordered!
- Discuss Your Concerns With Your Doctor. If you have any new or health related symptoms that you are concerned about, whether mental of physical, give your doctor a call. No concern is every too small to speak about with your physician. Many doctors are taking appointments by telehealth now, so the worry of exposure to germs is minimized. Sometimes a doctor’s reassurance that you are healthy is all you need to move past your worries.
Find and Talk to Others Feeling the Same Way. Knowing that you are not alone in your thoughts can be helpful in better understanding your feelings and emotions. Talking to family members and friends about your health concerns can help. They can reassure you that you will get past this, especially if they are feeling the similar types of anxiety as it relates to the coronavirus. Speaking with a therapist or joining an online support group can also be beneficial in helping you to understand your anxiety. Therapy, whether individual or group, can also help you to identify strategies that will work for you to manage this marathon of stress that we are all feeling during this very uncertain time.